Confessions of a political thriller writer
Writing political fiction is, like any fiction, easier than writing fact; a disclaimer in the front and off you go. If you've got a taste for controversy like Hilary Mantel or Andrew Marr you can write about real-life people, living or dead, and more or less get away with it (in the legal sense, anyway). With fictional characters you may include a smattering of personality from different people, well-known or not, to create a monster or a flawed hero; a misguided disciple or ruthless advisor. Whether one is lampooning the subject matter or trying to produce a more honest critique, it is almost impossible not to be influenced by people and events. 'Write what you know' is the old saying, so playing things close to the bone can be thrilling, especially if one takes the personalities of key players from the Third Reich and mixes them with modern-day politicians who set about turning a civil war-torn, modern, democratic British political party into a terrifying dictatorship.
That is all well and good. But in the beginning, before you make those initial tentative steps towards typing 'Chapter One', you set out your plot and characters and pretty quickly you're bent over your iPad, eagerly making progress. You've got a great storyline you're working on, something that sounds rather implausible, like the idea of devolved UK regions or the silly notion that a Tory/UKIP pact would ever be seriously mooted, but then you open up a blog (or a newspaper - remember those?) and see your 'crazy plot' staring you in the face.
Maybe, you think, you should have done an Andrew Marr and put in something so utterly ludicrous you could hardly expect to be accused of 'event plagiarism' - until, of course, Cameron drops dead, is beheaded and smuggled out of Number 10 to avoid referendum catastrophe. At least Marr thought of that one first. He has been accused of being so implausible the satire is lost, but in fairness one of the greatest satires of all time, Spitting Image, hardly projected its biting critique through real life situations. Marr is lampooning the establishment, although it is hard to know if he has a serious message behind the farce.
In one way it is comforting when reality mirrors aspects of your Westminster plot as you feel you're at least in touch with the out-of-touch, but in another it niggles that you should write something which is clearly fictional entertainment rather than (potential) fact. It is an interesting balance but, as a famous author once said, truth is stranger than fiction, and nowhere is that more marked than in the ‘Westminster Village’. Whether it be paisley pyjamas, 'Plebgate' or a politician and his ex-wife sending each other to prison over a speeding fine, authors of political fiction will never be short of inspiration nor able to predict the unpredictable. The best thing to do is let our minds run wild; we may be nearer the truth than we think.
Emma Gray has worked in Westminster for over 12 years. The Kindle edition of her new novel Power Play is available here.